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The #U19EURO experience – the players' view

With the tournament approaching its semi-final stage, the players give an insight into the lessons learned from playing in the heightened circumstances of a U19 EURO.

France's Wilson Isidor is relishing playing on the U19 EURO stage in Armenia
France's Wilson Isidor is relishing playing on the U19 EURO stage in Armenia ©Sportsfile

"It gives you a lot more visibility," says Wilson Isidor, France's matchwinner against the Republic of Ireland. "It's an opportunity for people to see you and get to know you," adds Alejandro Marqués, a Spanish scorer against Armenia.

If this pair, based at Monaco and Barcelona respectively, find the U19 EURO spotlight bright, imagine how it feels for those participants accustomed to lower-profile settings. Like Arsen Yeghiazaryan, captain of tournament hosts Armenia. For a player based at FC Banants, this championship has provided one lesson after another, beginning with the glare of publicity for their opening group fixture against Spain.

"It was amazing, we've never played in front of 10,000 spectators," he says. Even if results then went against Group A's bottom team, "every goal conceded, every match was a big lesson for me. The biggest lesson gained is you have to play until the final whistle. Even a second can be decisive against good teams like Spain and Italy. We conceded a goal in the last seconds of the match, and another goal – a very simple one – from a set piece."

Italy playmaker Nicolò Fagioli
Italy playmaker Nicolò Fagioli©Sportsfile

It is not only less experienced youngsters who find these finals a step up. Italy's Juventus-based No10, Nicolò Fagioli, played in the U17 EURO final last year but says: "This is a higher level, you have players playing in their first teams, who play in the top divisions, so it's a good level – physically, technically, with the intensity of play."

The sense of occasion is something the Czech Republic's Leicester City-based centre-back, Lukáš Hušek, has particularly appreciated. "We have family here to support us and that's what I'm enjoying most," he says. "You feel it's something big, and not the usual games. It's a different environment."

Inside the Norway camp, there are other perspectives on the different layers of the U19 EURO learning curve. "Here it's much more technical, you use the ball a lot," says Philip Slørdahl, Lillestrøm midfielder.

His team-mate Sebastian Jahl acknowledges the extra detail provided for players at international level compared with at club side Sarpsborg. He explains: "It is more detailed here, more meetings. Living in a hotel, you get to know each other better and to train on specific things every day. I like to know which foot they like to shoot with, for example. Back in Norway, it's more up to yourself to figure out, whereas here you get more help from staff around you with analysis."

Czech defender Lukáš Hušek (left)
Czech defender Lukáš Hušek (left)©FACR

This echoes the words of Ciaran Brennan, the Republic of Ireland defender from English second-tier side Sheffield Wednesday. "We get player profiles of every player with height, weight, age, where they're from, what foot, with clips of what they're good at, what they're bad at," he notes. "It settles you when you see the person you're playing against one v one. When you know his profile and weaknesses, you know what to exploit. If he likes to come inside, you show him outside."

For George McMahon, Ireland's goalkeeper, there is another practical aspect worth highlighting. "At international level, you're playing teams who speak in a different language so you never know what they're saying and if they're changing tactics."

The heat here in Armenia has meant most matches have been punctuated by a water break in each half. Another Ireland player, centre-forward Jonathan Afolabi, explains that the conditions have necessitated a change in approach – and, with it, another lesson learned.

"It's working smart," he says. "It's not as high tempo as you'd expect. Normally you'd press by yourself but here you have to reserve energy and use it for when your own team has the ball."

Ireland forward Jonathan Afolabi
Ireland forward Jonathan Afolabi©Sportsfile

Afolabi, incidentally, is without a club after leaving English Premier League outfit Southampton – and, therefore, seeking that very visibility the higher-profile duo of Isidor and Marqués mention above. His impressive leading of the Irish line, capped by a fine solo goal against the Czechs, will have done him no harm.

"lt's a good way to get myself exposure, to keep pushing and show people how good I am through international level," he reflects. "It's not a bad shop window to be in." It certainly isn't.